Dreams

As a child I had night terrors. My parents were worried sick. I’d wake up screaming most nights. My dreams were long and involved and red and rythmic. I was told by ponderous grown ups looming over me trying to help that I had to “do something” about my “overactive imagination”. Nothing worked. At night I would be lost, surrounded by vast cages where voracious buzzing flickering giant things were hungrily sending tendrils my way. Huge upright toothed slugs would trap me and start to absorb me into their bodies for digestion. Sleep was not a pleasant place to be. Even happy dreams would turn on me. “Oh what a lovely park. What pretty birds as they sing in the trees. What? No! They’re pecking my eyes out! THEY’RE PECKING MY EYES OUT!”

My grandmother solved it with a story. She bought me a huge fluffy lion. It was bigger than me. “If you’re having a bad dream, all you have to do is look for the lion. He’ll come into your dream and whatever it is he’ll fight it and win.” The next night I had night terrors the same as ever. “Did you look for the lion?” she asked the next day. I hadn’t. “How can I when I’m in the dream?” “You have to remember as you’re falling asleep. The lion is always there but if you don’t look for him he can’t come.”

Over time it started to work. The lion would appear, like a Patronus, and it would fight whatever dark shifting horrors I had invented for myself. The nightmares eased and eventually stopped all together as I began to realise the full extent of what my grandmother had given me. So many years later, with time and practice, I dream lucidly. Thanks to Dandy Lion. Dandy himself rarely shows up these days, but I always have a hand on the tiller and if there is horror I shatter the world into light. My dreams still are strange bright arbitrary journeys, but my expectations are positive and the journeys are fun. I can’t go to bed and set out to dream about Michelle Pfeiffer, but if Michelle Pfeiffer turns into a million mosquitoes and starts trying to envelop me then I can switch on the wind tunnel that we were in all the time and they’ll all get blown into a giant frog that was always there too. That’ll teach you, mosquito Michelle!

People love to tell you their dreams, and yet dreams are usually highly personal. Other people’s dreams rarely have much for us, outside of interpretable symbols. We’ve all politely waited for someone to finish telling us their dream. But how extraordinary that everybody spends time every night telling themselves these mad stories over which they have no real control. Some are stories that are so outlandish to the mind of the dreamer that they want to share them to make sense of them. Some are stories that teach the dreamer about themselves. Some are stories that vanish immediately on waking, ephemeral beautiful dreams that are written on the wind.

I’ve often wondered about the connection between my lucidity in dream and my vocation. I’ve been an active part of my own nightly stories for so long I feel called to be an active part of more universal stories with other people. I love the way theatre binds the audience and actors into a single breathing organism. Good theatre is a dream that everyone can talk about afterwards. Bad theatre is a nightmare that everyone can break down into component parts and forensically disempower.

I’m off into a different kind of dream space tonight, so I’m cheating by getting this written in the morning as I won’t manage at the usual time. I have high expectations of today, of tonight. I think I’ll walk in a park for a bit beforehand and see a form of nature. Hopefully the pigeons won’t go for my eyes.

I’ll see you on the other side. Or more likely on the other side of the other side. Which is here. I’ll see you here. Or there. Wherever I end up. Maybe I’ll find the lion.

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Cousin-outlaw

My cousin-outlaw Charlotte once said that my flat is the only London flat she can think of where the door is constantly revolving. People are always staying over for a few nights. I wish I had a spare room. Or six. There’d be constant delight. They bring what they bring, the motley crowd of people who stay here. Some bring music, some bring food, some bring money, some just bring their company. The latest guest has left for Paris but I still don’t get to sleep in my bed because now I have that same cousin-outlaw staying, with her daughter, and Alfie the dog. All three of them slept in my room last night, to the discombobulation of Pickle, who spent most of the morning hiding behind things and glaring at Alfie, and most of the previous night trying to burrow through me as I slept on the sofa.

Cousin outlaw? Well she married my cousin while I was in a painfully awkward teenage phase. Georgia was born, but now they’re divorced. So we’ve settled on cousin outlaw as a descriptor. I stay with her when I’m in Manchester, and she’s always welcome here. She’s the only family I’ve got in my industry. It’s good to have someone to share the struggle with that’s related to me, however loosely. 

She’s a playwright, and her first play went global and was a terrifically changing piece of writing in the mid eighties. When I was that awkward teenager I didn’t get it at all. It was about women and the North. I was living in London and at an all boys school. The first time we met, I opened with: “I read your play. It didn’t do anything for me.” Twat. It’s a miracle we’re still friends, let alone that we get on so well. But I’ve been on a journey. I look back on that boy and don’t really remember how I was him. I still have his diaries though, and it seems I was thinking similarly. I was just riddled with insecurity and a social misfit. I’m still a social misfit, but I’m cool with that as I have loads of social misfit friends and we hang out and it’s normal.

Anyway, since that big play she’s written a load of gorgeous lavish poetic epic plays and far too few of them have been produced. Before long one of them will fly. But for now she’s just writing, living, consuming, loving and pushing forwards. She’s great, and a hugely positive part of my world.

We went to see Road tonight at The Royal Court. Jim Cartwright’s masterpiece. It first played that stage 3 years before Charlotte’s debut there in the 80’s. It’s the second show I’ve been to in two nights where the actors have been in a fishtank. I was happy to get the chance to see it finally, having been aware of it for ages. I’ve seen sections of it being beaten to death in small studios by hopeful young people trying to get a place at drama school. I’ve seen cut versions of scenes at showcases. I’ve never seen the whole show by a consistent company. It’s another very thought provoking piece, and a hymn to resilience in desperate circumstances.

I barely knew the eighties but it felt very much like an eighties I could believe. Despite my saying about Yerma that I was glad of the modernisation, I was equally glad to see Road in context. Clearly I just find something to like and then justify the reasons I like it later. On that basis I probably should never review theatre. I’d be like The Stage in the early 2000’s, where virtually every review was “yay theatre I love theatre it’s great 5 stars!!!”

It’s coming up to 2am, they’re asleep in my room. Time for me to turn in, so the cat can try to burrow into me again as I sleep. Here she is simultaneously hiding from and glaring at the hound.

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Yerma

I love Lorca. A beautiful poetic agitator, writing for women at a time when that rarely happened, poking holes in lazy assumptions, questioning things. My grandfather was of his generation in Spain and got the hell out before the firing squads. Lorca wasn’t so lucky, and was shot. By idiots. At 38. His plays remain. (And the idiots are coming back.)

I went to a cinema to watch some theatre. No way I’d have got a ticket to the theatre it was playing, but watching it live on screen was good enough. I saw Simon Stone’s brilliant modernisation of Lorca’s great Yerma. Bringing this tale of a life ripped apart by longing into a modern frame. God it’s good. No wonder it got all those awards. Billie Piper is a powerhouse of an actress, and gives so much in the title role. Afterwards we were wondering how she puts herself back together every night.

It’s an epic play about a woman trying to conceive. Grand domestic theatre. Right now so many of my friends are reaching a time where they are either struggling to make a baby, resolutely denouncing the very idea of a baby, playing the host body for a baby, or sleep deprived and wondering why they went to all that effort to have the fucking baby.

My best friend is heavy with child. My ex just had her second. Loads of my friends are in the early stages of a new life twining round their own. There’s nothing like that proximity to make you aware of your own choices. I’m thinking and talking a lot about babies right now.

I doubt I’ll end up with a kitchen knife in my belly if I don’t have kids. (It’s a modernisation, oh Lorca enthusiast.) I like other people’s kids – as they say, you can give them back. But my own? You’ve seen how I exist. I can barely book something a week in advance. My brother asked me to babysit on Monday, and I was so uncertain about whether I could or not he retracted the offer mid conversation and said he’d send them to a sleepover with one of their friends.

I don’t have the biological imperative, but I still hear the ticking of a clock. I was basically still a kid when dad died, and he was very sick for a long time. I didn’t know him in the way you know people when all that growing up bollocks is out of the way. If I’m going to make a person I’d like to have a sense of how they turn out before I pop off. Coupled with the fact that it’s valuable for them to have parental role models. I guess I want to be there for any notional children I might end up with, because I lost my parents before I was 30 and the older I get the more I understand the things I never got to talk about with them.

So, yeah. Simon Stone’s Yerma has sent me off into a happy sort of melancholia as I stand at a bus stop and feel the cold air of winter blowing in. Lorca’s original is important, and probably contributed to the fascists shooting him, since he was picking at institutions like patriarchy and Catholicism. This adaptation resonates hard with me now – (she’s even a blogger). It’s done with compassion skill and humour. And theatre exists as a trigger for thought. Even on a cinema screen. Catch it if you can. I’m glad I did at last.

It was weird watching the curtain call in a cinema. Nobody clapped. In America, they clapped at the end of Get Out…

Reading out loud

Two years ago I was in San Antonio when I got a call from an old friend, Adrian Czajkowski.

Adrian and I are old friends from university. He’s a big man, bulky and about six foot four with a beard and long hair. He loved role playing games, and would often vanish on the weekends to hit people with foam swords while rolling dice in the woods. He was a prolific writer, churning out books and poems and plays, printing them on that old bicoloured printing paper with the holes in the sides, disbursing the documents to all and sundry. He’d sit in the pub stroking his beard and writing poems. Some of the poems were good. His degree was in psychology. He got a job in a law firm, got married to an opera singer, had a kid, didn’t stop writing. After fifteen years he found a publisher, and suddenly he started to crop up in the staff picks at Waterstones.

He got ten books published in a series – high fantasy, meticulously crafted. The Shadows of the Apt. What if humans had evolved from insects and could still do insecty things? Wasp people, mantis people, spider people, beetle people. The sword fights stand out – all that time hitting people in the woods near Reading gave him fantastic blow by blow understanding of the business of chopping people up. The books are a sort of steampunkish insecty swords and guns and magic fest.

Then he started writing sci fi, and he’s bloody good at it. Last year his debut sci fi novel Children of Time won The Arthur C Clarke award. All that hard work paid off. It’s a brilliant book. Hyperevolved spiders. Here’s his website. He changed the spelling of his name to Tchaikovsky match the Russian composer, just because it’s more familiar, and despite him hating it when we were at Uni.

So I was on tour in Texas when he rang me up to tell me he was having one of his short stories read on a podcast called Starshipsofa. He said he wanted me to read it. I’d never done something like that before, but I was game to learn. Problem was I was in Texas working hard. I rented a booth at the local university for 30 minutes one lunch break, read it once uninterrupted, rehashing mistakes and got an audio file that was so big I couldn’t open it on my iPad to edit. Curses! With the deadline looming, I ended up having to sit on the hotel room loo re-reading the whole thing into my iPad mic and editing on the fly with Twisted Wave. The result was harsh, but the story was harsh so it sort of worked. It went down well even if I wasn’t thrilled with it. That was the beginning of my journey towards trying to make sense of home recording. It’s a technical business and requires equipment which I haven’t had. Thankfully it involves a lot of improvisation, which is something I do have. The second short story I read was in digs in York, with paper thin walls and a noisy street at Christmas on the other side of them. I ended up having to record it lying on my stomach with all my bedding on top of me while people kept shouting in the street. The third one I read was “The Merger” by Sunil Patel, in a noisy corridor in my block, sitting in a corner surrounded by pillows. It took hours and I had to keep rerecording because of planes, but I was getting better at editing. You learn by doing. The fourth was much the same, but my neighbour was weirded out by it and kept noisily coming to listen from the other side of the door, and peep through the peep hole. I rushed it. Then in the edit my iPad was crashing constantly and I lost patience and submitted it even though I wasn’t happy. Despite that, they’ve asked me back. The fools.

There’s no way I’m going to record to iPad if I’m at home. It’s time to step it up. I called up my old roomie from Dubrovnik, Chris. He makes it work for himself, so I slavishly bought his recommendations. They arrived today. I’ve hacked together a temporary studio in my corridor and dammit it already sounds pretty good. I’ll road test by doing one more reading for Starshipsofa, and then gradually improve and tweak the soundproofing as I go.

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My technical know-how is still sorely lacking. But I’m doing a Voiceover Kickstart course online, which is helping me compound what I do know, and get better at what I don’t. I’d recommend the free six week course to anyone who is thinking of adding this string to the bow. If things go according to plan, and I work hard in my spare time, I reckon I can tick this over to the extent I don’t have to punish myself with stuff like Ascot again. And if I go on tour, there’s always the iPad. *shiver*

Chariot to the peaks

My rib is definitely much better, so at the first opportunity I overestimated my capabilities and shinned myself. I attempted to bound into the back of a Luton van in skinny jeans, which restricted the jump marginally, so I hit my foot and crashed both my shins down on the lip of the trunk. Ow. I’m an idiot. I am not made of rubber. That’s just the inside of my head.

I’ve ended up driving this monster of a van from London to Macclesfield and back. I arrived to pick it up at 8.30am only to be told that it had been used in Carnival, hadn’t come back, and they couldn’t raise the driver. I get the sense it was a friend of theirs and that they were laid out somewhere with a sore head. It took three hours for them to both wake and persuade whoever it was to return the van through their hangover. So I had to resign myself to getting home after midnight. I stopped for a vegetarian curry in the Peaks, and took some photographs. If you’re going to be home late you might as well do it properly.

I was driving the set for Blues Brothers up into storage. There’s a little arts space up there where Brian and his business partner keep the things they need in case they want to remount past shows. I had a rummage for the Christmas Carol stuff, as I have an inkling I’ll be back Scrooging it in a few months. God that came round quickly. But thinking about it, a lot has changed this year. I’ve got better at saying “no” to things that I really ought to say “no” to. And I don’t regret agreeing to drive this van all day. Sunset was beautiful.

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Now, however, it’s a long time after sunset, and I’m a little worried about how I’m going to make the final sixty miles. I’ve stopped at Cherwell Valley services. The van caps speed at 62 and consequently it’s extremely dull to drive. There’s not enough to think about. I’ve never been so heavy headed driving before. Even writing this I can barely keep my eyes open, and I’ve been stopped for a while now.

This whole service station reeks. There’s no way I’m sleeping here. Looks like I picked the wrong day to give up coffee. Chai has caffeine. It’s cheating, but cheating is better than dying. I’ll get some chai and a load of water and smash it home. If I make it home I’ll schedule this before I crash, in the bed sense. That way the very fact you’re reading this means you needn’t worry that I did it in the other sense.

It was close. I finally stumbled into my flat at ten to three. Every road that could be closed was closed. I almost ran out of diesel. There’s dried blood all over my left leg, although it’s just because the skin is taut. I have to move the van first thing tomorrow. I can hardly keep my eyes open and the cat hates me for not feeding her until 3. Bed. This blog was brought to you by chai soya latte, Spotify and The Prodigy. Without those three I’d be asleep in a layby. I nearly was anyway.

 

Carnival

Until 1855, if we wanted a bit of public disorder in London at this time of year, we had Bartholomew Fair. You could go to the ward of St Bartholomew the Great, dress up as The Archbishop of Canterbury, and shag people dressed as goats while shouting “Look at me! I’m the archbishop. I’m shagging goats.” Then you and your goat-dressed friends could go back to your jobs as candlebiters, feeling like you’d done something naughty. You’d bite candles until Christmas without question, buoyed up by the feeling you’d expressed your dissatisfaction with that damned corrupt archbishop. If someone suggested you seize the means of production you’d look at them like they were mad. “I’ve done my sedition for the year thanks.”

Bartholomew Fair was shut down in 1855 for “encouraging debauchery’. Clearly it went too far. Maybe the candlebiter found some real goats. Who knows. It’s gone. Now the biggest excuse for civil disobedience in the London calendar is Notting Hill Carnival. It started in 1966. I’ve gone every year for ages. It involves thousands of people kettling themselves in one of the richest parts of London. It’s a huge weird funny Street party, in an area not very well equipped to handle such an event. Improvised sound systems cause traffic jams on Street corners. Empty cans and smashed bottles line the streets. There’s a constant vague smell of wee. Grown men are pissing everywhere, and no surprise where huge signs happily proclaim “£3 toilets, this way!” Many of the gardens have futile signs exhorting people “please don’t wee in my garden.” As often as not, someone has weed on the sign.

I walked through the carnage, heading to meet a friend at Ladbroke Grove. Received wisdom is “Don’t go to carnival on Monday evening”, but somehow that’s always when I end up there. People were jumpy. There’s always a few incidents. Police were EVERYWHERE. Today would have been an excellent day to rob a bank in North East London.

Twice as I walked through the centre, near Grenfell, there were spontaneous crowd panics. Suddenly everyone around you starts screaming and running in both directions. It’s pointless running as there is no identifiable thing to flee so running could as easily take you towards whatever it is as away. Both times i shifted to the side of the road and looked, saw no clear reason for the panic, and watched as it died down. The second time, a police officer clocked me shrugging with exasperation: “Any idea what that was caused by?” I had none. “Expectation?” I hazarded.

I eventually got to meet my friend Mel. She was glad of male company. She’d had a constant stream of men asking her why she was alone, telling her she was beautiful, telling her how they were only recently single and their girlfriend cheated etc etc. It was something I hadn’t thought about but became aware thereafter as I witnessed men attach like burrs to people who were just trying to enjoy themselves; “Hey. Hey, beautiful. Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey, beautiful. Beautiful. Hey beautiful. Hey, yeah hey, you yeah… you’re beautiful.” It’s pitifully uncomfortable to watch. God it must be tedious to receive. One guy kept kissing a girl on the shoulder in the supermarket queue. She kept hollowly smiling. I don’t know how she didn’t lamp him.

People were grabbing and holding Mel’s ass, before I came, she told me. Because she was on her own. I show up and she’s left alone. As soon as I’m there, no more crap. I partly see what they meant by banning Bartholomew Fair. A festival has to be permissive or it’s pointless. But none of them were dressed as an Archbishop. Perhaps that’s the trick they were missing.

Having found Mel, we went to get some food. It was a bit late though, so the concessions were no longer licensed. They were paranoid. But they had a load of chicken cooked that they couldn’t legally sell, that was going to go to waste. We appealed to their greed to sate ours. “Not here. Round the corner,” he hissed through his teeth. “They’re watching. Plain clothes police. Give me the money. Careful. Ok. Meet me over there by that van.”

 

Buying it gave me a rush of transgression, quelling that pressing desire to find a crozier and a goat. He sold us jerk chicken like it was something dreadful. I’m not sure if it’s enough to send me back to candlebiting happy, but I’m glad I went to the carnival. Just as I’m glad I didn’t get shanked or have acid thrown in my face, or get buggered by some lunatic in a cassock. And just as I’m glad that whatever got shot over Japan while I was pratting around at a street party landed in the sea. Although now there’s God knows what sort of unstable crap lying on the Pacific sea bed.

Hot Gatsby

It’s hot in London. Damn hot. I spent the morning oozing around Regent’s Park with Oliah, and then picked Brian up from King’s Cross.

Brian recently extended his Gatsby show until New Year’s Eve, and since I’ve got a guest I thought it only right, on a hot summer evening, that I share this steamy jazz age treat with her. She’s from Portland, Maine. She hasn’t been to an immersive show before, and Gatsby is a fantastic example of an immersive show led by narrative rather than gimmicks. It’s a great one to start with, and you’ve got a reasonably good chance of coming out knowing the story, which is more important than many people that make immersive shows appear to think.

We arrive in the evening at Gatsby’s Drugstore, which – brilliantly – you can find by searching for it in Google maps. For a Sunday evening it’s packed out. Loads of audience members have made an effort. There are plenty more three-pieces than mine on the men. The women have twenties style dresses, and those fascinator things in their hair.

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Even before we start there’s a festival air. And the little room we’re in is rammed to the rafters. The bar is doing a roaring trade. It’s hot.

The show rewards repeated watching, which is just as well, since I’ve seen it four times. It’s been built into an old factory near London Bridge. We unloaded a van full of furniture one day some months ago and saw some beautiful transformative work in progress. Having known the place before the show I’m aware they’ve done a great job on it.

There’s one big central hall and then lots of rooms around the edge, where you might find more intimate scenes. There are also chances of a one on one moment with any of the actors, in which case you’ll almost certainly get a good shot of Copperhead gin – it’s on tap. They’ve sponsored the show.

The central hall is pretty big, so it necessitates vocal projection from the cast. It’s pleasant to hive off into little rooms from time to time and catch other aspects of the story, more personal and nuanced than they can easily be in that big space. The actors are all strong and playful, and able to shift gear quickly. Some of my favourite scenes are the little intimate ones. But today I wanted to see how the show played if I stayed loosely central and behaved like an unadventurous or shy audience member. I didn’t mind not getting free gin, as I had to drive home.

They taught me how to Charleston a bit. They sang beautifully to me and one another. There was a lover’s dance up a wall. Four bemused audience members were tasked with creating the perfect tea setting and failed spectacularly. The performers all have enough facility with their material to deftly incorporate and reincorporate the random stuff generated by their audiences, and make it fun and safe for the people they involve. Even just staying in the middle I found I had a varied, smart, touching night at the theatre, and the story was told.

Now it’s running until New Year, there’s plenty of time to see it. I’m not in it, but I feel a connection with it. So many people I love are making it what it is. It’s a show built with community and love, and it comes across brilliantly. And they were all boiled in their costumes and sweating like racehorses at the end of the show, but it didn’t take any of the fun out of it for us. It’s a good shout for an early date, not that I’m a dating expert. But let’s pretend I am.